Young and Beautiful (2013): Francois Ozon’s Coming of Age Tale Starring Marine Vacht and Charlotte Rampling

(French: Jeune et Jolie)

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Cannes Film Fest 2013 (In Competition)–François Ozon’s coming of age film, Young and Beautiful, centers on the sexual awakening of a young pretty girl, played by the luminously beautiful Marine Vacht, a newcomer.

“Young and Beautiful,” which is Ozon’s first film in competition in Cannes in 10 years (since the 2003 “Swimming Pool,” which was in English and was released with great success in the U.S. by Focus Features).

Some reviewers (not me) criticized the film for being “typically French,” and too much of a male fantasy of a young girl’s sexual awakening.  By American standards, some bold scenes would be considered as soft-core eroticism and voyeuristic, though I don’t think Ozon intends them as such.

When first seen, Isabelle is at a family beach holiday with her brother, mother and step father, and also friends Véronique (Nathalie Richard) and Peter (Djedje Apali), They all tease Isabelle about a handsome German boy, Felix (Laurent Belbecque) who is hanging around, wishing to go out with her.

Isabelle goes for a nocturnal night with Felix to a secluded part of the beach. What she sees there in the dark brings to the surface darker impulses of her own her own personality, including an interest in Internet porn. Soon she becomes a high-class escort of rich and older married men, whom she meets in various hotels. The men represent an assorted gallery of clients, nice and gentle like Georges (Johan Leysen), but also nasty and crude like the guy played by Stefano Cassetti.

These encounters lead to a melodramatic crisis, and then a bizarre resolution.  The ending, featuring a scene between the girl and the great actress Charlotte Rampling, in what amounts to no more than a cameo, lends the tale a strange, slightly absurdist tone.

However, like most of Ozon’s films, “Young and Beautful is handsomely crafted and well-acted, with strong performances from Géraldine Pailhas and Frédéric Pierrot as well-to-do middle-aged couple Sylvie and Patrick, and from newcomer Marine Vacth as Isabelle, their 17-year-old daughter, who is on the verge of a personal transformation.

There is also a nice contribution from Fantin Ravat as Isabelle’s kid brother Victor, whoan onlooker and confidant.

“Young and Beautiful” bears some thematic resemblance to Bunuel’s masterpiece Belle de Jour, starring Catherine Deneuve, though lacking the master’s known subversive and ironic tone and subtle touch.

Running time: 95 Minutes

Director: François Ozon

Cast:

Charlotte Rampling, Frederic Pierrot, Marine Vacth